Keep The Wage Bill Minimal
January 23, 2007 - 6:14pm ET
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[UPDATE: A Senate vote midday Wednesday to close off debate on a "clean" minimum wage bill, identical to one the House passed earlier this month, fell six votes short of passage. The vote was 54-43.]
It is crunch time in the Senate for a clean minimum wage bill, as advocates for a bill that is not weighed down by tax breaks for business make a final push today to get the 60 Senate votes needed for a straightforward wage increase.
The prospects look dire, but it is not yet time to throw in the towel.
Senate leaders have scheduled a key cloture vote to break a filibuster on H.R. 2, the bill passed by the House that would increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over two years. Sixty votes are required to break a filibuster, or invoke cloture. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate’s second-ranked Democrat, told TomPaine.com on Tuesday that while he prefers a minimum wage bill without add-ons, “we felt we had to prepare from the beginning to offer business tax incentives” and to make the package of incentives “as positive as possible” from a progressive standpoint. “The cloture vote will be the test of whether we need it.”
One could reasonably ask, of course, what happened to the $36 billion in tax breaks that small businesses received from the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress since the minimum wage was last increased 10 years ago. Is it too much to ask that workers share in the tax bounty small businesses have already received? And wouldn’t small businesses benefit handsomely already from the decreased turnover in their labor force and increased spending power of their customers that would come from a minimum-wage increase?
On Tuesday, the Senate approved several minor amendments to the bill, most of which were justified as ways to help small businesses cope with the cost of a minimum wage increase. “If we are going to dramatically increase the costs for some businesses by a wage mandate, we should provide some measure of relief to those same businesses,” said Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., on the Senate floor Monday.
A more noxious addition to the bill, an amendment by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that would give the president line-item veto authority, is expected to come up for a vote. Regardless of its merits, it is a poison pill that Democrats are unwilling to swallow – and should not have to.
Voters did not ask that the fate of low-wage workers be tied to the balance of budgetary power between the executive and legislative branches, or to what the best tax policies for small businesses should be. That message was sent loud and clear Tuesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who called for the Senate to consider the minimum wage and small business tax breaks in separate bills.
The fear is that otherwise, the wage increase will get snagged in a contentious conference between the House and Senate.
So the full-court press for a “clean” bill continues, with a coalition of groups asking progressives to flood their senators with calls during the next few hours.
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